Maintaining Optimism in the Face of Reality. Occasional observations on the state of the world, society, business and politics. Usually anchored by facts, always augmented by opinion.

One Positive Aspect of 'JFK Reloaded'  | e-mail post

I am assuming most readers have heard of JFK Reloaded when it was launched a couple of weeks ago. If not, it is a simulation (some would say a game) that allows you to reenact the events in Dealey Plaza on November 22, 1963. You play Oswald, or multiple shooters, placed in different locations, including the proverbial grassy knoll. As an aside, I'm surprised no Democrats have claimed Karl Rove was in the grassy knoll, they seem to have become very fond of conspiracies, but particularly those in which Karl Rove plays the central part.

There has been a fair amount of negative press about the game, with many commenting that the most disturbing thing being the $100,000 cash prize for most accurately positioning the gunman (or gunmen) and timing the shots in the way to most closely reproduces the bullet paths with injuries and car damage consistent with forensic findings as well as visually matching the Zapruder film.

Now, I understand how such an offer can make people squeamish; I certainly would agree it seems in poor taste, and one can hardly criticize Ted Kennedy for being appalled. However, when I was listening to a criticism of the game on MPR last weekend, the obvious benefit struck me: with all the "second gunman" conspiracies people have put forward (and maintained) about the assassination, this prize gives a fairly strong economic incentive for somebody to prove that it's possible that someone other than Oswald did it, and that he did it alone.
Zapruder Film Trivia
Zapruder's Bell & Howell camera and the film are in the National Archives, though Zapruder originally sold the film to Life magazine for $50,000. Life sold it back to them for $1 and it was given to the Archives for restoration, but the family kept the rights.

Here's the portion of the story that raises my cynicism level. In 1997, the U.S. government declared the film a public record and took custody. An arbitration panel was established to determine the compensation for the film only the actual film itself; the Zapruder family continues to have reproduction and royalty rights). While the government initially proposed a million dollars, the family wanted about $30 million, as they claimed they could get that at private auction. The panel ultimately awarded them about $16 million. [CNN]

If you visit the site, and look at the screenshots and read about the program, you'll see that it is a simulation, not a game. It certainly doesn't seem like it would be "fun." I've played enough first-person shooter games with the sniper rifle, and while that can be fun, playing the sniper in JFK Reloaded would feel more like being Groundhog Day at Dealey Plaza, with an Oswald having to duplicate his exact shots before being allowed for time to start again. It seems like it would be interesting in a forensics, ballistics, math and ballistics sort of way, not in a typical gaming sort of way. The simulation appears to be of an extremely high quality with respect to simulating all the physics and physiology involved with the siting, aiming , and firing of the rifle as well as the travel of the bullet through the air, people and cars.

If there really was a second gunman, I find it difficult to believe that someone will not be able to closely, if not precisely, define the set of shooters and shots that would be consistent with the evidence. Of course, conspiracy theorists still have (at least) two outs. Anybody who has maintained a pet second gunman theory for this long will be loathe to give it up; just as repeated scientific dating hasn't changed some people's opinion about the true provenance of Shroud of Turin, it has only forced them to adapt their theories. The simplest out is that the game is a poor simulation, but this is verifiable, and I think would be found to be false; it appears fairly robust with a clearly documented set of assumptions. The more bold version is that the simulation, while sound in all respects has been specially coded to inaccurately simulate shot patterns that could contradict orthodox beliefs. This seems unlikely, but so does the whole second gunman theory. The second unique possibility is that the forensic evidence is inaccurate. Both of these additional machinations required for the conspiracy theory to hold water diminish its strength to the casual observer. Of course, I will acknowledge that you can't prove a negative, so there is always the slightest logical possibility that these people could be right, just as NASA might have faked the moon landing and the Holocaust may have just been Zionist PR. I'm going to stick with the orthodoxy on all three things though.

So, the good news about the game is that it should either help to demonstrate the possibility that there was someone other than Oswald, or it may force a group of the conspiracy theorists who have based their beliefs on a second gunman to let go of their fantasy and accept the orthodoxy, or find a new conspiracy.

Either way, if it even stops one more assassination conspiracy book from being written, it will be an intellectual and environmental victory.

Also on the Kennedy subject, there was an interesting piece in the Op-Ed section of the Star Tribune last week suggesting that Kennedy's vanity and need to appear youthful and healthy may have been his demise. Biographer James Reston Jr describes information he came across while researching his biography of then-governor of Texas John Connally: Kennedy probably would have lived had he not been wearing his corset, a steel-rodded backbrace he wore to maintain his posture and reduce his back pain.
Apart from the never-ending controversy over how many bullets Lee Harvey Oswald actually fired from the Texas School Book Depository, most experts agree with the Warren Commission that Oswald's first bullet passed cleanly through Kennedy's lower neck, missing any bone, then entered Connally's back, streaking through the governor's body and lodging in his thigh. This was the first so-called magic bullet.

When Connally was hit, he pivoted in pain to his left, his lithe body in motion as it swiveled downward, ending up in the lap of his wife, Nellie.

But because of the corset, Kennedy's body did not act as a normal body would when the bullet passed through his throat. Held by his back brace, Kennedy remained upright, according to the Warren Commission, for five more seconds. This provided Oswald the opportunity to reload and shoot again at an almost stationary target.

The frames of the Zapruder film confirm this ramrod posture: Kennedy's head turns only slightly in those eternal seconds, and his upper body almost not at all, from frame 225 (when the first shot entered his neck) to the fatal frame of 313.

Without the corset, the force of the first bullet, traveling at a speed of 2,000 feet a second, would surely have driven the president's body forward, making him writhe in pain like Connally, and probably down in the seat of his limousine, beyond the view of Oswald's cross hairs for a second or third shot.

With no bones struck and the spinal cord intact, the president almost certainly would have survived the wound from the first bullet.
I don't know if the JFK Reloaded simulation takes account of the corset. I don't recall seeing it mentioned in any FAQs.

e-mail post | Link Cosmos | [Permalink]  |  | Friday, December 03, 2004
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